Now that the digital world has become our irreplaceable part of life, it also becomes important what life you lead there in this brave new world. People are starting to talk about “digital footprint” — your so-called digital alter ego. It is now the same as with the reputation in real life. You should also care about your digital one.
It can now be considered negligence not to pay attention to your digital part of existence. But rather, it demands an ever-growing conscience about what you share and what exactly you share, like login credentials to some websites and info with too much personal flair on some social media or forum.
Digital Footprint Definition
A digital footprint is a trail of data you leave behind when you go online. Some sources also call it an electronic footprint or digital shadow. You leave it each time you visit different websites, send emails, or submit the info online. It can have a form of cookies on your device, apps you share your data with, leaving a comment on some social media, or shopping online.
A digital footprint can be active and passive. One can use it to track any person’s online activities and devices. That’s basically how the advertisers tailor their online ads to any user so that they see only the ads they will be interested in. But sometimes, the thing gets abused when a data breach happens then you are completely unaware of where your data went and to whom.
Active and Passive Digital Footprints
An active digital footprint means when a user deliberately shares their info online. It includes online forums, social networking sites, subscribing to a newsletter, and agreeing to accept cookies on your browser.
On the contrary, passive digital footprint means a user doesn’t know what they share and with whom. They are just unaware of the information that sites collect about them. Here it includes websites that collect information about users, like how often they visit the website, where they come from, or their IP address.
Examples of Digital Footprints
Have you ever wondered what your digital footprint size is? Depending on how necessarily wide your online circle of interests is and how good your digital care is about yourself. The most common examples of digital footprints can follow into the next categories: social, reading and news, health and fitness, financial, shopping.
- Social media;
- Registration on a dating site or in an application;
- Sharing data, photos, and information with your contacts on social networks;
- Communication with friends on social networks;
- Using your social media credentials to sign in to other websites;
- Using a news app to view an article;
- Subscribe to any online news source;
- Using various apps to track workouts and other activities;
- Any data on the Internet related to your healthcare.
Digital Footprints Matter: Why?
Some people consider restricting online information or filtering what they share. It’s important to look at it from the point of shaping your digital persona. Don’t think of it as something we only do when finding someone we are interested in romantically and checking their profile on Instagram or Facebook.
- Your future employer might do the same — to look you up on social media.
- Not only the employment but there are also other reasons to why the digital footprint matter:
- Cybercriminals can try to exploit your footprint to create phishing emails to compromise your security further, or they can create a false identity based on you and put to risk others;
- Content that you’ve intended for a private group or chat could end up in a wider circle putting to risk your reputation and possibly your relationships with other people;
- Everything that you write or post online could be misunderstood or intentionally altered causing unwanted offence;
- Apart from reviewing your resume, an employer can also see your social media profile to get a closer look at future employee personality. The same is with universities and colleges. Before accepting a prospective student, they might want to take a look also at your Instagram;
- Digital world won’t go away somewhere one day but will further establish itself as even an intrinsic part of our lives, so how you look and what they say about you in a digital world will also be important;
- Digital footprints are relatively permanent. In the case of Facebook, you have little control over what others might do with your post.
How to Protect Your Digital Footprint
Now that you know what a digital footprint is, it’s time to learn how to protect it. Use the following tips to ensure the safety and security of your digital persona:
- Don’t hesitate after a data breach. If you suspect your data might be at risk, take immediate action. Change your passwords or if you have used them elsewhere, change them there as well;
- Regularly update your software. Cybercriminals always look for the exploits available, and when they find a chance for an attack, they will try their best. Don’t allow them to access your device and data easily.
- Set yourself a limit on what you share on social media. Try not to overshare. Don’t post about your location, travel plans, and personal details;
- Use some identity protection services. In case your personal information and data get stolen, you can remediate the consequences using some identity protection services.
- Don’t use your Facebook account to log in to other sites and apps. Convenience or not, your security and safety should be first. Avoid connecting your Facebook account to any third-party organizations.
- Check the security of your medical records. Verify if they are safe and secured. Criminals will use your medical records to get treatment in your name, but their records will also easily intertwine with your own. Periodically review your medical records to see any inconsistencies present.
- Delete old, no longer used accounts. See how many accounts you have and eliminate those you don’t use anymore. It can be accounts from some social media subscriptions to a newsletter. Reduce your digital footprint in order not to have problems in case of a data breach.
- Don’t work with your personal data while being on public Wi-Fi. Not to mention that public wifi generally is considered unsafe and insecure to use because of its high susceptibility to security breaches.
- Don’t do anything on unsafe websites. You can know if the website is unsafe by the HTTP beginning in the address bar. On the contrary, if the website has HTTPS beginning, it is considered safe and secure. Such a website will also have a padlock at the beginning of the address bar. It is essential to use a virus scanner, malware protection, antivirus program to keep your PC safe.
- Restrict what data you share. Before you fill out an online form or send your personal information to some organization, evaluate if any risks might present a danger to your data. Look if the organization’s website is legit or if the online form is real. Therefore, knowing the tips for protecting your data is important.>
How to Leave a Better Digital Footprint
After reading all the above, you may now consider how to shape a better digital footprint for yourself. For such a matter, consider the following tips below:
#1. Post Something Positive Online
Use any platform you like to post about your experience, interests, skills, and achievements in a way other people use. It would take some good advice or motivation. By doing so via photos, videos, words, or a mix of that, you can show more positive things to read and see in this world, not only throwing positive light on yourself but also spreading positive messages to others. Read also: How to Create a Positive Digital Footprint
- Uploading digital artwork to your blog if you’re interested in art or do it yourself. In addition, you can also create a blog where you can publish different paintings and research some info about them for other people to get acquainted with their history and art value;
- If you had some cool experience, share it with others. You can also give your advice and tell a story that might inspire others. It can be a post about your work experience, excursion, or meeting with some famous person;
- If you are involved in any fundraising activity, create a special page where others can contribute and help. If you are volunteering for some organization dealing with stray dogs and cats, you can show on some social platforms what you do and how others can help;
#2. Think Before You Post
This tip comes in close relation to the first one. Before you go online and think of posting something, think of what you will post. For such a case, learn the next thing. If you didn’t know, there’s a mnemonic that Melissa Pilakowski designed. And it goes like this: evaluate what you are going to post by the following letters — True (T), Helpful (H), Inspiring (I), Necessary (N), and Kind (K). In short, THINK before you post.
#3. Google Yourself
The best and easiest way to start managing your digital footprint will be to look yourself up in Google or other search engines. If there’s something unflattering or that gives you a bad light, you can contact the website’s administrators to remove it, or you can also fill out Google’s URL Removal tool to fix the problem. In such a way, you might come across your old long time unused social media accounts that you want to delete or their content.
#4. Manage Your Online Presence
Keep a list of all your accounts and immediately delete those you no longer need. For such matters, use certain websites to help you group all your accounts to share later with the public. Of course, it’s easy to forget those accounts if you can create up to fifty different accounts over time and not remember all of them, especially when they were used only once.
But look up in the Wikipedia article about the most popular websites the names you might remember to create an account on and go through all long forgotten accounts to evaluate whether to delete them or keep them.